By David Hennessy
A charity set up by an Irish father has had their cause drawn attention to by a harrowing recent Coronation Street storyline.
Mummy’s Star, established in 2014 by Limerick-born Pete Wallroth, help families affected by cancer in pregnancy. Pete established the charity after he lost his own wife to the illness in 2012.
Viewers have been gripped by the Coronation Street storyline showing Sinead being diagnosed with cervical cancer while pregnant with her baby son, Bertie. She passed away while Bertie was still far too young to remember her.
The storyline, played out by actress Kate McGlynn and Rob Mallard who plays her husband Daniel, came to a climax last Friday night with Sinead passing away peacefully during Bertie’s bedtime story.
Pete helped ITV with the storyline, ensuring it remained realistic and the actors have become involved with the charity as patrons.
Pete Wallroth told The Irish World that the storyline has been raising awareness for what Mummy’s Star does: “It’s giving what we do and the subject matter a good focus. We’re delighted with the response to the storyline and the way it’s been done by the team at Corrie.
“There’s been quite a few people getting in touch with the actors themselves saying that the storyline has encouraged them to go back and get their smears and rebook smears that they have been putting off for ages.”
Although many are referred from medical professionals and perhaps not a result of the soap storyline, Pete says: “We’ve seen a significant uprise in requests for support from us over the last 12 months anyway, you can see a significant impact in terms of more families reaching out and aware that there is a support network for them.”
The charity operates all over the UK and Ireland since 2016. Pete saw the need for an organisation like it even before his wife Mair passed away in December 2012. Like Sinead, Mair was diagnosed with cancer while she was pregnant with their son Merlin. At 22 weeks, she discovered a lump in her breast which was later confirmed to be cancerous. The family were given reassurances that they had caught the cancer in its early stages and Mair would recover after her treatment. Merlin was born safe and well and Mair continued with her treatment while Pete worked to create as normal a home as possible for the couple’s son and then three-year-old daughter Martha.
However, the family were devastated when Mair was diagnosed with secondary cancer on her brain: “Even before Mair died, it was obvious there was a gap in terms of provision for families like us who got diagnosed with a newborn baby and the seed was sown in the middle of trying to get through that.
“After Mair died, it was kind of a silent determination thinking if another family got diagnosed and hadn’t had their family close by or hadn’t got a lot of friends around to support them, how much more isolating would it have been for them?
“If there’s another family out there, we want to make sure they’re not on their own.”
A new child gives any couple enough to deal with but any couple undergoing cancer treatment would have to deal with nappies and feeding times in addition to treatment: “Chemotherapy has well documented side effects in terms of nausea, tiredness. Trying to juggle a newborn baby, the night feeds and the constant need to be put down, picked up, trying to balance that when you’ve just had a round of chemotherapy or you might have just had surgery for any manner of cancer is logistically and practically an absolute nightmare for families.
“That has a knock on impact on the partner because I only had so much paid leave that I could take and then you end up having to take more leave that’s unpaid, that will have a knock on impact on the family finance. That brings financial pressures. That can cause stress. The relationship can become a bit fractious and there’s tension in the household as well as all the worry that was there anyway. It just brings such a catalogue of different emotions and different responses in families.”
Pete says there is a perception that if you are diagnosed with cancer during pregnancy, you can’t get treatment but this is not necessarily true.
The symptoms can also be masked by pregnancy: “They can be very well hidden when a woman is pregnant. Stomach twinges, breast changes, soreness, tenderness: A lot get fobbed off in pregnancy when they present with things like that and the reality is that it can sometimes be an early sign of something more sinister.”
Upon diagnosis, some families have to consider terminating the pregnancy in order to ensure the mother is safe but until not too long ago in Ireland, this would not have been an option: “A lot of our families, they face making a decision whether they continue with those pregnancies upon diagnosis or abortion in order to have the best treatment possible for their cancer. That’s a harrowing decision for any family to make. You can’t predict what a cancer is going to do if you leave it for a couple more weeks to get to later in the pregnancy so you meet families who are facing horrendous decisions.
“If they had been in Ireland, they wouldn’t have been given those options either. If a woman was diagnosed mid-pregnancy and you couldn’t prove that her cancer would spread but equally you couldn’t prove that it wouldn’t: Who’s going to play devil’s advocate about whether that woman’s life is in danger or not?
“Inadvertently the old law could have placed someone in a fatal position really so I advocate for choice full stop and if a woman chooses to proceed, we support her fully. If she chooses not to, to terminate to have the best life chances for her, to be there as a mum for her existing children then we support her equally.”
For more information on Mummy’s Star, go to mummysstar.org/